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Transformation Series as an Ideographic Character Concept

Wiley Blackwell (Blackwell Publishing)
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  • Communication
  • Logic


An ideographic concept of character is indispensable to phylogenetic inference. Hennig proposed that characters be conceptualized as “transformation series”, a proposal that is firmly grounded in evolutionary theory and consistent with the method of inferring transformation events as evidence of phylogenetic propinquity. Nevertheless, that concept is usually overlooked or rejected in favor of others based on similarity. Here we explicate Hennig's definition of character as an ideographic concept in the science of phylogenetic systematics. As transformation series, characters are historical individuals akin to species and clades. As such, the related concept of homology refers to a historical identity relation and is not equivalent to or synonymous with synapomorphy. The distinction between primary and secondary homology is dismissed on the grounds that it conflates the concept of homology with the discovery operations used to detect instances of that concept. Although concern for character dependence is generally valid, it is often misplaced, focusing on functional or developmental correlation (both of which are irrelevant in phylogenetic systematics but may be valid in other fields) instead of the historical/transformational independence relevant to phylogenetic inference. As an ideographic science concerned with concrete objects and events (i.e. individuals), intensionally and extensionally defined properties are inconsistent with the individuation of characters for phylogenetic analysis, the utility of properties being limited to communicating results and facilitating future rounds of testing.

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